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Thoughtful Alphabets: Edward Gorey’s Lost Cryptic 26-Word Illustrated Stories

A delightfully dark journey into the love of language.

Having a soft spot for all things Edward Gorey and unusual alphabet books, I was thrilled by Pomegranate’s new edition of Thoughtful Alphabets: The Just Dessert and The Deadly Blotter (public library) — a collection of two cryptic 26-word stories, in which the word begin with the letters of the alphabet in order and the story progresses as the alphabet does in parallel.

The stories belong to a mid-90s “Thoughtful Alphabets” series, the first six volumes of which were released as hand-lettered posters illustrated with clip-art. Then, several years ago, stories numbers XI and XVII emerged as signed limited-edition books featuring Gorey’s original drawings — but the books quickly went out of print. In this beautiful resurrection, Gorey’s signature blend of wit and dark whimsy shines in each of the micro-vignettes — a fine complement to his beloved alphabet classic, The Gashlycrumb Tinies.

Illustrations © The Edward Gorey Charitable Trust, courtesy Pomegranate. All rights reserved.


Alligators All Around: A Maurice Sendak Alphabet Book from 1962

Juggling jellybeans, keeping kangaroos, and other shockingly spoiled yackety-yacking.

As a lover of alphabet books and of all things Maurice Sendak, I was delighted to get my hands on an original 1962 edition of Sendak’s Alligators All Around: An Alphabet — a charming, tiny gem that tells the non-narrative story of an alligator family who go about their daily business as young readers explore the progression of the alphabet.

Even with so few words and such simple illustrations, Sendak’s signature wit and subtle irreverence shine with their familiar light.

Note that although the illustrations in the them are no less delightful, the copies currently on Amazon are, alas, regular-sized reprints from 1991 — but some public libraries still carry the wonderfully diminutive original.


A Visual Alphabet-Dictionary of Unusual Words

A visual A-Z of the hidden treasures of language.

As a lover of language and words, especially obscure and endangered words, I was instantly besotted with Project Twins’ visual interpretations of unusual words, originally exhibited at the MadArt Gallery Dublin during DesignWeek 2011.

A person whose hair has never been cut.
The practice of destroying, often ceremoniously, books or other written material and media.
The pathological belief that one is inhabited by an evil spirit.
An anatomical landmark located at the tip of the middle finger.
The changing of something into its opposite.
Swaggering; empty boasting; blustering manner or behavior; ostentatious display.

To have a paralyzing or mesmerizing effect on: Stupefy or petrify

The character flaw or error of a tragic hero that leads to his downfall.
Unspeakable or too odious to be expressed or mentioned.
The casting of an evil eye.
The science of putting people to death.
A person with a slender, thin, or frail body.
Wandering over hills and mountains.
Production of knowledge.
Bringing omens or unnatural or supernatural manifestations.
The act of cultivating, or growing and grooming, a mustache, beard, sideburns or other facial hair.
A rare nineteenth-century word for a wooden toy which briefly became a political insult.
A knockout punch, either verbal or physical.
Possessing a violent desire to write.
A disorder characterized by an uncontrollable urge to dance.
A person who gives opinions and advice on matters outside of one’s knowledge.
A romantic mood brought on by Spring.
A confused mass; a jumble; turmoil or confusion.
The act of traveling as a stranger.
Mentally or emotionally distant; absent-minded.
A position in which any decision or move will result in problems.

Some of the designs are available as prints in the Project Twins shop.


To Do: Gertrude Stein’s Posthumous Alphabet Book

“Don’t bother about the commas which aren’t there, read the words. Don’t worry about the sense that is there, read the words faster.”

In 1939, Gertrude Stein penned her first children’s book, The World Is Round, whose dramatic story was featured in this twopart omnibus of obscure children’s books by famous authors of “adult” literature. The following year, Stein wrote an intended follow-up, titled To Do: A Book of Alphabets and Birthdays (public library) — a fine addition to my well-documented obsession with unusual alphabet books.

But publisher after publisher rejected the manuscript as too complex for children. (One must wonder what Maurice Sendak might have said to that.) The book was never published in Stein’s lifetime. In 1957, more than a decade after Stein’s death, Yale University Press published a text-only version and in 2011, more than half a century later, the first illustrated version true to Stein’s original vision was released, with exquisite artwork by New Yorker illustrator Giselle Potter.

In the press release for The World Is Round, Stein offered the following characteristically philosophical statement regarding her children’s writing, exuding the same dedication to the intertwining of form and meaning we’ve come to expect from her adult writing:

Don’t bother about the commas which aren’t there, read the words. Don’t worry about the sense that is there, read the words faster. If you have any trouble, read faster and faster until you don’t.

Z is a nice letter, and I am glad it is not Y, I do not care for Y, why, well there is the reason why, I do not care for Y, but Z is a nice letter.
I like Z because it is not real it just is not real and so it is a nice letter to you and nice to me, you will see.

Zebra and Zed.

A Zebra is a nice animal, it thinks it is a wild animal but it is not it goes at a gentle trot. It has black and white stripes and it is always fat. There never was a thin Zebra never, and it is always well as sound as a bell and its name is Zebra.

It is not like a goat, when a goat is thin there is nothing to do for him, nothing nothing, but a Zebra is never thin it is always young and fat, just like that.

Images courtesy of Yale University Press


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